James Potter fumed as he stormed through his study. It had been three days since he spoke to Albus. He had expected him to be back that same day with the boy in tow, but nothing of the sort happened.
Every time he called Albus on the floo, all he got were meaningless platitudes. ‘I’m working on it. Be patient, everything will be fine, just give it some more time.’
“The one time the boy does something useful with his life, and what does he do? Run off,” James ranted. “Doesn’t that idiot boy understand what I can do with that money?”
“James, is there someone here?” Lily asked as she walked into the study.
“No, I was just talking to myself,” James said, shaking his head as he calmed down.
“Albus will bring him back,” Lily said soothingly. “We’ll certainly need to have a long talk with him, though. Running off to London like that, and not thanking Glory for her help? What was he thinking?”
“That’s not all I’m worried about, Lily. The boy is running around with a fortune. How much is going to be left when we get him back?” James asked.
“How much damage could he do? At worst, he will be at the train station to Hogwarts in a few weeks. With some luck Albus will find him before that,” Lily replied.
“This is my chance to prove my father wrong, Lily,” James explained. “He told me I was too reckless, that I didn’t think things through properly.”
“It didn’t matter if it was about business or even funding the order to fight the dark lord. He never gave me the chance to prove myself,” James said as he remembered his father.
Charlus Potter was a hard man to have as a father. He demanded respect and never shied away from telling you when you did something wrong. He rarely praised anyone for doing something right because, in his view, that was the bare minimum.
Lily remembered one of the last conversations they had with him, “he wrong James.” “Funding the order to stop the dark lord was not reckless. It was necessary.”
“The last thing he told me before he died was that I was a failure and a disappointment. Then he put the entire Potter fortune in trust with a solicitor,” James groused.
“Maybe we can contact the solicitor?” Lily suggested. “You’re the head of the Potter family now. You should be the one to decide that now.”
“I’ve tried,” James said, shaking his head. “I know the law firm is Dalton & Moore, but they won’t tell me who is in charge of the Potter Trust. That was apparently part of the arrangement my father made with them.”
“There must be something we can do,” Lily insisted. “It shouldn’t be that difficult to at least find out who is managing it.”
“I’ve talked to the managing partners. They said that it’s against the terms of the contract, and the funds have to be managed within a blind trust.” James explained. “The only way to dissolve the trust is to prove mismanagement of funds, malfeasance, or if they don’t meet the annual growth percentage.”
“That’s the worst part, Lily. The growth percentage is so low they don’t have to do anything to hit their targets. I could run rings around whoever is managing the Potter fortune.”
“My father expected me to just live off the interest, but I have so many great ideas. I could at the very least triple the Potter fortune if I had the chance,” James groused.
“So when Harry comes back with the prize money, you can do that,” Lily smiled. “Then we won’t even need the Potter fortune.”
“I have to find the boy first,” James said.
“You will,” Lily said. “Then we can set everything right.”
“You know what? You’re right. I shouldn’t wait for Albus to fix everything for me. I can take care of this myself, just like my father would have.” James walked to the fireplace.
“I’m going to the Ministry to talk to Fudge. That spineless worm will do what I tell him, if he knows what’s good for him!” He said as he called for the Ministry Atrium and stepped through the floo.
Cornelius Fudge sat in his chair, staring at the seemingly indifferent Saul Croaker. “When I asked you to come to the museum, it wasn’t a request, Saul. It was an order.”
“My Unspeakables were there,” Saul said indifferently. “You seemed to have it handled.”
“Considering we were dealing with an artifact that was more than a thousand years old, your input would have been useful,” Fudge glared. “That is what the department of mysteries does, right?”
“I was monitoring the situation from headquarters. Our instruments there are far more precise than anything we can bring into the field,” Saul replied.
“In future, I expect you to be there when I ‘request’ it or at the very least a floo call explaining why you can’t. Is that clear?” Fudge stated.
“Yes sir,” Saul replied in the same disinterested tone.
Cornelius wanted to rip into him more. He certainly deserved the dressing down, but he knew his hands were tied.
While the department of mysteries reported to him, the Unspeakables were far too specialized to just replace or even suspend a department head, so they largely governed themselves.
Now that he thought about it, he wasn’t even sure where their funding came from. It certainly wasn’t on any budget proposal he had ever seen.
“What can you tell me about the vault?” Fudge changed the subject.
“Not much right now,” Saul replied. “Even though the door is open, everything inside the Vault is still locked down. We can’t remove any items. We can’t even take a book off a shelf without the energy field blocking us. It’s a good bit of spell work.”
“Why would Merlin go to all the trouble to create the cypher and then not allow us to examine its contents?” Fudge mused.
“My guess, because it isn’t ours to take,” Saul replied.
“You think Harry Potter is the one that can access it.” Fudge surmised.
Fudge sighed. That created a whole other set of problems for him.
The ministry claiming ownership of the vault was shaky from a legal standpoint. As long as no one challenged them directly, there were no issues. That was the whole point of establishing the prize in the first place, to distract from the legal gray area they were in.
If Harry helped them remove the items now, however, he could make the legal claim that the items belonged to him.
Fudge was not sure where the Wizengmont would stand on that.
“Keep working on it,” Fudge instructed. “Contacting Harry Potter will be a last resort.”
“Sorry to interrupt you, Minister,” Delores said as she popped her head through the door. “Mr. Potter is here to see you, but he doesn’t have an appointment.”
“Harry?” Cornelius asked in surprise.
“No,” Delores shook head. “His father, James Potter.”
“Even better,” Fudge said as a gleam entered his eye. “I have been expecting him for sometime now.”
“Saul, see yourself out, and I expect daily updates on the progress you make with the vault,” Fudge dismissed him.
“Delores, send Mr. Potter in,” Cornelius instructed as Saul left through the side door.
“We need to talk, Fudge!” James stormed into the office, slamming the door closed behind him.
“Hello Mr. Potter, I’ve been expecting you,” Fudge said with a smile.
“Good, then you already know why I’m here,” James growled. “How dare you give those galleons to my son! He’s far too young and immature to understand how to manage that kind of money.”
“I thought that might get your attention, but I actually expected you to show up days ago.” Fudge said in an even tone, revealing nothing.
James, for once in his life, stooped to consider his actions. This was not the confrontation he was expecting. Fudge should not have expected him to storm into the Ministry like this.
“Was Dumbledore on vacation? I know you can’t make a decision to save your life without him telling you what to do.” Cornelius said, picking up on Potter’s change of mood. He needed him angry and off balance.
“Dumbledore doesn’t make my decision for me!” James snarled, unknowingly allowing himself to be manipulated. “You had no right to emancipate my boy! And you are going to fix it right now!”
“No.” Cornelius replied simply.
“What!?” James demanded, not used to being spoken to this way.
“This is well within my purview as minister. I stand by my decision, and I will not be rescinding it,” Fudge said.
“Who do you think you’re talking to?” James growled. “I’m not some halfwit that a nobody like you can order around.”
“This nobody knows exactly who you are, James Potter of the ancient and noble Potter family,” Fudge said, an edge entering his tone.
“I will speak to the other noble families about this disrespect,” James retorted. “When I’m through, you’ll be lucky to get a job as a janitor!”
“Are these the same families that voted against me in the last election? The same ones that failed to keep me from becoming Minister for Magic?” Fudge goaded.
“The same, and you will not be so lucky a second time,” James warned. “If you do not show me the respect I deserve, you will find out what the true wrath of the noble families feel like.”
“Oh, believe me Mr. Potter, the last thing you want is for me to show you the ‘respect’ you deserve,” Fudge replied, showing more of his animosity toward the man than he intended.
Fudge’s response took James aback. This was not the sniveling coward he was expecting, the groveling fool he was referred to in the right circles.
“Because if I was,” Fudge continued. “There would be a team of Aurors dragging you out of MY office and using your head to open the damn door!” Fudge shouted.
“What?” James asked, shocked into a stupor. “You can’t talk to me this way.” He said, confused.
“I can’t?” Fudge asked. “Are you really so arrogant you think you can do whatever you want without repercussions after everything you’ve done?” He demanded.
“What?” James asked, now completely confused. “I’ve never done anything to you.”
“During the election, when I was running against Crouch. The man that you and your ilk supported,” Fudge prompted.
James flushed in embarrassment at the reminder. When they found out that Crouch’s own son was a Death Eater, it was an embarrassment for everyone that supported him.
“Still don’t remember?” Fudge sneered. “Why would you? A stuffed shirt with nothing better to do than play with other people’s lives.”
“Well, let me remind you,” Fudge continued. “You accused me of being a Death Eater.”
“What? Is that all this is about?” James laughed derisively. “That’s politics, you idiot!”
“No,” Fudge disagreed. “Politics is starting a rumor, spreading an idea, getting people to ask the questions you want them to.”
“You publicly accused me without a shred of evidence and then used your clout with the Wizengmont to send a team of hit wizards to raid my home!”
“And if I recall, that miscalculation guaranteed you the election,” James shouted back. “So, in fact, you owe me one.”
“My wife was home when they raided it,” Fudge revealed. “My Isabel was unarmed, and those animals still hit her with at least four different spells.”
“Well, she’s fine now, isn’t she?” James said back callously. “Living the life of luxury, just like any proper pureblood wife? Last I read in the Prophet, she was visiting family in Italy, wasn’t she?”
“Oh yes, that’s what the Prophet is told to write,” Fudge agreed. “But not the truth. She’s lying in a coma that she is unlikely to ever recover from,” his voice cracking with emotion.
James was silent, he had never been told any of this before, only a long lecture from Albus about what was acceptable in politics, and the lengths he had to go to, and the favors he had to call in to sweep it all under the rug.
“She is in that coma because of you, and you will pay for what you’ve done. I don’t care if it costs me my career, or even my life. You. Will. Pay.” Fudge growled.
James was momentarily taken aback by Fudge’s vitriol. No one had told him what happened to Fudge’s wife, but in the end she wasn’t really important.
“That’s where you’re wrong, Fudge. People like me make the rules, and people like you follow them. Remember your place. This is your only warning.” James replied.
“The only reason you aren’t in Azkaban for what you did is that Dumbledore protected you at every turn, but he’s an old man. How long do you think he has left? Another 10 years, maybe 15?” Fudge smirked.
James was put on the back foot again. None of this was going how he expected it to. He wasn’t supposed to be the one being threatened. He was supposed to be the one making the threats.
“Those Hit Wizards. They talked the same way you are now. Dumbledore protected them too, blocked me every time I tried to have them fired or even put on trial.” Fudge continued.
“That’s when I started getting creative. I promoted them. After all, the Wizengmont can’t get involved for a simple promotion.”
James looked at Fudge in confusion. ‘Is he completely off his rocker?’ James thought.
“There’s a little town in Russia called Oymyakon. It’s a muggle town, so no magic allowed,” Fudge explained.
“I had an outpost built there. The average temperature is -50c all year round. I’m told when they have a funeral, they have to light a bonfire for five days just to get the ground soft enough to dig.”
“Those animals can only leave when someone else is ‘promoted’ to replace them. I call it the ‘James Potter special.’”
“You think you can send me there?” James laughed. “I don’t work for the ministry, or have you forgotten?”
“Oh no,” Fudge shook his head. “Sending you to a frozen wasteland for the rest of your life is far too good for you. When I’m done, the world will see you exactly for who you are. A blustering coward, too afraid to get their hands dirty and too stupid to accomplish anything without their family name.”
“How does it feel, by the way? To be completely overshadowed by an eleven-year-old?” Fudge asked.
James said nothing, but flushed angrily and glared.
“See yourself out, Mr. Potter,” Fudge said dismissively as he sat back down.
“This is not over,” Potter said as he stormed out.
Cornelius reached a shaking hand into his desk and pulled out a bottle of fire whisky and poured himself a glass when he was sure Potter was gone. He was still shaking in anger as he took a sip.
He had revealed a bit more than he intended with that confrontation, and he knew he would deal with Dumbledore or one of his cronies soon, but a larger part of him was pleased. This was the first time he could actually confront Potter about what he’d done and the first real step in making him and the people that supported him pay.
Dumbledore had spent a lot of political capital, making it very difficult for him to even be in the same room as Potter. He idly wondered how many favors he would have to call in this time for James Potter.
What Cornelius hadn’t expected, though, was all the feelings that came back out to the surface as soon as he saw Potter’s face. It brought him right back to that day, as if it had just happened.
Harry woke up with a groan. It was the same strange dreams again, the ones that started in the forest. Thankfully, there were no blinding headaches anymore, but he was no closer to finding out what the dreams meant or even how to stop them.
There was only one thing he could think of. He had to go back to where it all started, the forest.
Harry walked downstairs to talk to Tom, remembering to put his ring on. Even though it had been a few days, it seemed the vault was the only thing people wanted to talk about. He wore the ring daily now, as well as the cloak to further obscure his identity.
He disliked the attention, and most of the time just wanted to blend into the background, but there was a part of him that enjoyed it, a part of him that wanted to be acknowledged, that wanted to be recognized for what he had done.
Harry did his best to ignore those feelings. He had seen how too much pride can twist and change a person to something unrecognizable.
“Tom,” Harry greeted as he walked downstairs.
“Hello Harry,” Tom greeted quietly, as to not draw attention.
“I’m checking out, but I should be back tomorrow,” Harry said.
“I’ll save a room for you,” Tom nodded.
Harry stepped out of the cab that took him to the campgrounds. He kept an eye out for Ben, but when he reached his old campsite, it was empty.
Harry was honestly sad to see him gone. He was the first good person who he had ever met, and he hoped he would get a chance to see him again, to thank him for his help.
He walked deeper into the forest and pulled out his wand, remembering the spell in his father’s old textbooks. “Point me, the lake.”
Harry watched as his wand spun in his hand, pointing deeper into the forest. Putting the wand back in its holster, he started the long walk back to the lake.
A few hours of walking later, Harry stared at the lake in the midday sun. It looked exactly as he remembered it. He even found the place where he came through the branches the first time. He looked out at the lake from where he stood the first time, but nothing happened.
‘I was so sure that if I came back I would find something,’ Harry thought in disappointment. There were no flashes like in his dreams, just a small lake in the middle of the woods.
“No,” Harry said out loud as he shook his head. “I didn’t come all this way and go through all this for nothing. Tell me why I’m here! Tell me what you want!” Harry demanded.
A few moments passed and Harry was feeling silly, standing in the middle of nowhere and yelling at a lake, when the flashes started, but this time he wasn’t dreaming. This time he concentrated on it, willing the images to slow down.
He saw a woman made of water standing in the middle of the lake, and staring back at him, but it wasn’t the same lake. It was somewhere else, somewhere he had never been.
When the flashes stopped, the woman was there, staring back at him.
“Who are you?” Harry asked.
He watched as the water slowly solidified until he was staring at a woman. She was wearing a set of pure white robes, had blue eyes, dark hair and looked to be in her mid-twenties.
She was beautiful, but there was something strange about her, something powerful and dangerous. Harry couldn’t understand why, but whoever this woman was, she seemed both familiar and otherworldly at the same time.
“That is a difficult question to answer. I had so many names over the centuries. You knew me in the beginning as Altia, more recently as Nimue, and by many other names in between,” the woman answered.
“I don’t understand,” Harry replied. “I’ve never met you before. I would have remembered meeting someone made of water.”
“That is also true,” the woman answered simply.
“Do you know what’s happening to me?” Harry demanded, losing patience. The woman, this Nimue, talked in circles, seemingly answering his questions, but only leaving him with more questions in the end. “How can we know each other if we’ve never met before?”
“We knew each other many times across many lifetimes. You just haven’t remembered yet.” the woman answered gently.
Harry eyed the woman wearily. He didn’t really know what to make of her. He considered just leaving but knew that the flashes would never stop, that he would just end up back here eventually, looking for answers.
“You are having flashes,” Nimue said. “Of people you have never met, and places you have never been.”
“Then you know what’s happening to me? Do you know how to make it stop?” Harry asked.
“I know what is happening to you, but there is no way to stop it. You have already taken the first steps to unlocking your previous incarnations,” Nimue explained.
“Previous incarnations?” Harry asked in confusion.
“Yes,” Nimue nodded. “I know this is difficult to believe, but you are at the beginning of a journey, a very difficult one, but one you have undertaken many times.”
“Ok, let’s assume for a moment that I believe you. What’s happening to me? What do you mean by unlocking my previous incarnations?” Harry asked.
“The flashes that you’ve been having, the pain you felt in the beginning, were those memories pushing against the confines of your mind, expanding it, preparing it,” Nimue explained.
“How? How has it been preparing me?” Harry asked.
“You may have already felt some effects,” Nimue explained. “Have you noticed your memories becoming clearer? That you can remember details now that you didn’t before? How much faster it is to recall things, even from years ago?”
Harry thought back, the spell he had used to find the lake, he remembered now. He had read it in an old textbook of his father’s weeks ago. He remembered only skimming through that section.
Then there was the Merlin’s Cypher. It was years ago that he found the old science book. He shouldn’t have been able to remember all of those details, but he did, as if he had just read them a moment ago.
“I have,” Harry realized. “I remember everything, but why?”
Nimue nodded. “You will learn to access entire lifetimes of memories and experiences, far more than the average person ever will. All of that would be wasted if you can not remember them when you need to.”
“But you must be very careful. Accessing your previous incarnations is also extremely dangerous.” She warned.
“Why is it dangerous?” Harry asked. “They’re just memories, right?”
“The most dangerous thing in the world is knowledge without the experience to temper it,” Nimue warned.
“When you access a previous incarnation, they will share with you not just what they have learned, but also the emotions they felt as well.”
“If you are not prepared, those emotions can imprint on you as well. What they loved you would love, what they hated you would hate, and what they believed you would believe.”
“You will become more like your incarnations and less like you. In essence, a completely different person.”
“You mean every time I access a previous incarnation they could change who I am?” Harry asked, now feeling worried.
“Worse than that, I’m afraid. You would take up their very best and very worst traits. The stronger the emotions, the stronger the imprint. Some lives you have lived, you did incredible things, both good and terrible.”
“The way you talk about it, it sounds like it’s happened before,” Harry realized.
“I will not lie to you. There are some things your previous incarnations have done, monstrous things. Things they would have never done, if not for what they learned from their previous incarnations.”
“How many times?” Harry asked.
“Three that I know of, but I haven’t known you in all your incarnations,” she explained.
“Why wouldn’t I want to meet you in the other incarnations?” Harry asked.
“Each of your lives is different. You have been warriors, kings, philosophers, even lowly peasants occasionally. Your formative years form the core of your being. Sometimes that leads you to me, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
“Can I choose not to access the previous incarnations?” Harry asked. The idea of losing himself like that seemed horrific.
“You can, but it will always be at the very edge of your mind, tempting you. There are very few times I know of that you chose not to.”
“Even knowing the risks? Why?” Harry asked.
“Sometimes it’s for noble things like saving a life or stopping a dark wizard, other times it’s for something more selfish, like accumulating power and wealth, but the urge is always there to know more than you ever did before, to cast spells that have been lost to time.”
“If you access those memories, it will be difficult for you as you are now. Your formative years solidify your mind and being. It gives you the experience to recognize when you are losing yourself and the strength of mind to pull yourself back from the edge, but you are so very young this time. In truth, I have never seen you reach this stage so early.”
“There has to be something I can do,” Harry insisted.
“There is something… have you ever heard of occlumency?”
“No,” Harry shook his head. “What is that?”
“It is a mind art, meant to organize one’s memories and protect it from the intrusion of others. If you can learn it to a sufficient degree, you will detect when your other incarnations’ memories and experience latch onto your mind, and with sufficient experience, even dispel those influences on you.”
“Where can I learn this occlumency? Is it something you can teach me?” Harry asked.
“I can teach you, but it is something you must study for years, decades even, and the process with a teacher is… intimate. It requires absolute trust, because to teach you, you would have to open your mind to me. I would see all that you are, all of your memories and feelings.”
This was where Harry faltered. He didn’t know if he could really trust this woman, or in fact, if anything she was saying was true or just some elaborate lie. She had made a few guesses and gave him a fantastical story where he was the hero, but Harry knew that wasn’t him.
“It’s ok,” the woman said, sensing his hesitation. “The first time we meet, it is always the most difficult. I assume you will go to school soon. You will find a library there. Search carefully and you will find a book that shows you some basics. It will be more difficult and time-consuming, but it will help.”
“Are you like this as well? Can you access your past lives?” Harry asked curiously.
“No, I’m afraid you are unique in that. I don’t know if everyone that has ever lived is simply born again when they die over and over again and simply can’t access their past lives like you can or they are entirely new beings.”
“But you said that we met before. How can that be possible? How could you have lived that long?” Harry asked.
“This is where you must be the most careful. You are walking down a path that many of your incarnations have walked. The more you learn, the more you want to learn. You need to reflect on what you ask and decide if you are ready to hear the answer,” Nimue warned.
“What can you tell me now?” Harry asked.
“Think of each of your incarnations as a link in a chain. You must commune with each incarnation in order from the most recent to the last. It must always be done in order.”
“Each of your incarnations will be a guide of sorts, they will speak to you, instruct you, and once they have taught you all you wish to learn from them, they will fade away and you will be ready for the next link in the chain. But be warned, once they are gone you cannot call them back, and not all of your incarnations will be altruistic, some will want to live and experience the world again through you, some will believe that there are things they had left undone in their lives and will do everything they can to remain.”
“Are you really here? Why is this place important?” Harry asked, changing the subject.
“This place specifically is not important, it’s just a small body of water, but I have a connection to all bodies of water. When you called out I could hear you,” Nimue explained.
“If you are not here, where are you?” Harry asked.
“I live in a place called Avalon,” Nimue revealed.
“You are the lady of the lake, from the Arthurian legends,” Harry said, confirming his suspicions.
“Yes, I have also been called that before as well,” Nimue revealed.
“You must have known Merlin then. Do you know anything about Merlin’s Vault?” Harry asked.
“No,” Nimue shook her head. “But he is one of your previous incarnations,” she revealed. “But he either never told me about it or he created it after I last saw him.”
“When was that?” Harry asked.
“Perhaps a thousand years ago,” Nimue explained. “I can’t say for certain. It has been a very long time.”
“He created a vault with a series of cyphers. People have been trying to solve them for a very long time,” Harry explained. “And I solved it a few days ago.”
When this discussion started, Harry had suspected Merlin would be involved somehow, and now he had confirmation.
Harry felt his stomach drop as he realized. Did he really solve the vault on his own? Were his accomplishments his? Was all the pride he had felt in himself just a cruel lie? Was what his family said about him true?
“You are wondering if you really solved the cypher or if Merlin insured you would solve it.” Nimue surmised as she saw the emotions flash across Harry’s face.
Harry nodded, not sure what to say now, as he felt like the rug had been swept from underneath him.
“I’m afraid that’s something I can’t answer for you, Harry. Perhaps if it was his vault, he left something behind for you to find that will give you the answers you seek,” Nimue suggested.
“That isn’t really possible anymore,” Harry replied. “The people that have it now won’t let me take anything from it.”
“But maybe I can access my Merlin incarnation? He could tell me,”
“That is your choice to make, but I would not recommend it.” Nimue answered.
“Why?” Harry asked curiously. “He created the vault. He must know.”
“Merlin must have lived 6 or 7 lifetimes ago. That is a lot of incarnations for you to meet and learn from first. So it is already a very dangerous course of action,” Nimue warned. “And even if you could reach Merlin, he may not be what you are expecting.”
“What do you mean?” Harry asked. “There are so many stories about him. He is probably the most famous wizard to have ever lived.”
“He was certainly powerful,” Nimue agreed. “And intelligent, but of all your incarnations I have met… he is my least favorite,” Nimue explained.
“Why is that?” Harry asked.
“He has delved further into your incarnations than any of your other predecessors that I know of. He has learned of magics long forgotten, primordial and powerful, but with each incarnation he lost more and more of himself, his humanity, and worst of all, he did not care that he was losing himself.”
“He stopped seeing people and started seeing pawns he could control, that he had the right to shape the world as he saw fit because he had the power to do so. It made him some powerful enemies, and most likely what led to his downfall.”
“I warn you Harry, if you go searching for answers, if you seek the Merlin incarnation, if you find him, he will be the most powerful of your previous incarnations, he may extract a price from you for the answers you seek.”
“Could any of the incarnations after Merlin have the answers?” Harry asked.
“Possibly,” Nimue conceded. “But I have met none of your incarnations after Merlin until today.”
“Can I find you again if I have more questions?” Harry asked.
“You can,” Nimue smiled. “Call out to me near a similar sized body of water and I will hear,” she said as she disappeared from the lake and returned home.